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Joaquin Rafael Phoenix ( ; born October 28, 1974), formerly credited as Leaf Phoenix, is a film actor, musician, and occasional rapper. He was born in San Juan, Puerto Ricomarker, where he lived for the first 4 years of his childhood. His family then moved to the continental United Statesmarker, where he was raised. Among the many places in which he lived, because of his family's frequent moving, were Mexicomarker and various countries in South America. Phoenix is from a family of performers which includes his older brother, the late River Phoenix.

Phoenix has ventured behind the camera, directing music videos as well as producing movies and television shows, and has recorded an album, the soundtrack to Walk the Line. He is also known for his work as a social activist, particularly as an advocate for animal rights. On October 27, 2008, he announced his retirement from film in order to focus on his rapping career.

Family background and early life

Phoenix was born Joaquin Rafael Bottom in Río Piedras, located in the city of San Juanmarker, Puerto Rico. He is the third of five children, including River (1970-1993), Rain (1972), Liberty (1976), and Summer (1978). He also has a half-sister named Jodean (1964), from his father's first marriage. Phoenix was born with a birth mark on his upper lip which many have since mistaken for a scar.

His father, John Lee Bottom, was a lapsed Catholic from Fontana, Californiamarker. His mother, Arlyn Phoenix (née Dunetz), was born in the Bronx, New Yorkmarker to Jewish parents from Hungarymarker and Russiamarker. In 1968, Arlyn left her family and moved to California, later meeting Phoenix's father while hitch-hiking. They married in 1969, then later joined the religious cult the Children of God. They began travelling throughout South America.

His parents eventually became disillusioned with the Children of God; they made the decision to leave the cult and returned to the U.S. in 1978. They changed their last name to "Phoenix" to symbolize a new beginning. This was also around the time Phoenix had begun calling himself "Leaf", desiring to have a similar nature-related name like his siblings (he was inspired by spending time outdoors raking leaves with his dad). This is the name he would use as a child actor; at fifteen, he changed it back to 'Joaquin'.

In order to provide food and financial support for the family, the Phoenix children performed on the streets and at various talent contests, singing and playing instruments. In Los Angeles his mother started working as a secretary for NBC, and his father worked as a landscaper. Joaquin and his siblings were eventually discovered by one of Hollywood's leading children's agents, Iris Burton, who got the five children acting work, mainly doing commercials and television show appearances. Phoenix went on to establish himself a child actor before deciding to withdraw from acting for a while and travel to Mexicomarker and South America with his father.

Phoenix came back into public view under tragic circumstances: on October 31, 1993, his brother, River Phoenix, suffered a fatal drug overdose and died, outside the famed Hollywoodmarker nightclub The Viper Roommarker, which was owned by Johnny Depp. Joaquin's call to 911 to save his brother was recorded and repeatedly played over the airwaves and on television. The sudden media intrusion into his life proved to be too overwhelming; once again, he retreated from the public eye. A year later, at the insistence of his friends, Phoenix reluctantly re-entered the world of acting.

Film career


Phoenix's first acting jobs were guest appearances on two television shows with his brother River in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982) and Backwards: The Riddle Of Dyslexia (1984). He made his big-screen debut in Space Camp (1986), playing the role of Max, after starring in an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "A very happy ending" the same year. His first starring role was in Russkies (1987). He later co-starred in Ron Howard's Parenthood (1989), in which he was credited as Leaf Phoenix.

Early on in his career, Phoenix had often played supporting roles as conflicted, insecure characters with a dark side. He has earned positive reviews for his portrayals of various individuals: a troubled teen in Gus Van Sant's To Die For (1995) co-starring with Nicole Kidman, a small-town troublemaker in Oliver Stone's U-Turn, the cruel Roman emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), a conflicted priest in Quills (2000), a washed-up baseball player in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs (2002), a lovestruck farmer in Shyamalan's The Village (2004), a disillusioned cameraman in Terry George's Hotel Rwanda (2004), and heroic firefighter in Ladder 49 (2004).

Upon being cast as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line after Cash himself approved, Phoenix responded by buying a guitar and learning how to play. Reese Witherspoon, who portrayed June Carter Cash in the film and won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance, stated during an interview that when they first performed in-character before a live audience, she was so impressed with his impersonation that she knew she "had to step it up a notch". All of Cash and Carter's vocal tracks in the movie and on the accompanying soundtrack are played and sung by Phoenix and Witherspoon. In 2005, he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, and won a Golden Globe in the same category in 2006.

In 2006, Phoenix was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. On October 27, 2008, at a benefit for Paul Newman's Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, Phoenix announced his retirement from acting and stated that he was going to be focusing on a music career.


He has directed music videos for the following bands: Ringside, She Wants Revenge, People in Planes, Arckid, Albert Hammond Jr. and Silversun Pickups.


Phoenix served as one of the executive producers of a television show called 4Real, a half-hour series which showcase celebrity guests on global adventures "in order to connect with young leaders who are creating social and economic change." He is also listed as a producer on the movie We Own the Night.

Music career

He recorded the soundtrack album Walk the Line and won a Grammy Award at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards for his work on the soundtrack.

In May 2008, it was reported that Phoenix had been recording songs he had written himself, with Mike Fox (of Little Knickers) handling lead vocals and Tim Burgess (The Charlatans) on backing vocals. No release date has been given for the project.

He is currently the subject of a documentary directed by his friend and brother-in-law Casey Affleck; the documentary will follow him as he moves to a career making hip-hop music while managed by rap icon Sean "Diddy" Combs. Filming began in late 2008.

Phoenix made his rap debut in mid-January 2009. Rumors circulated that it was an elaborate hoax, to which Phoenix stated "This is not a joke. Might I be ridiculous? Might my career in music be laughable? Yeah, that's possible, but that's certainly not my intention."

Social activism

Phoenix has long been a social activist, lending his support to a number of charities and humanitarian organizations, notably Amnesty International, The Art of Elysium, HEART, The Peace Alliance (an organization which campaigns for a United States Department of Peace),and is on the board of directors for The Lunchbox Fund.

Phoenix has been a dedicated vegan since the age of three. He is a member of P.E.T.A. and the organization In Defense of Animals, and has actively campaigned on their behalf. He narrated the film Earthlings for Nation Earth, a video about the investigation of animal abuse in factory farms, pet mills, in industry and research. In 2005, he was awarded the "Humanitarian Award" at the San Diego Film Festival for his work and contribution to Earthlings.

In 2005, he participated in the documentary I'm Still Here: Real Diaries of Young People Who Lived During the Holocaust.


Year Film Role Notes
1984 Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia Robby Ellsworth Nominated — Young Artist Award for Best Young Actor in a Family Film Made for Television shared with River Phoenix
As Leaf Phoenix
1986 SpaceCamp Max As Leaf Phoenix
1987 Russkies Danny As Leaf Phoenix
1989 Parenthood Garry Buckman-Lampkin Nominated — Young Artist Award for Best Young Actor Starring in a Motion Picture
as Leaf Phoenix
1995 To Die For Jimmy Emmett Nominated — Chlotrudis Award for Best Supporting Actor
1997 U-Turn Toby N. Tucker a.k.a. TNT
Inventing the Abbotts Doug Holt
1998 8mm Max California
Clay Pigeons Clay Bidwell
Return to Paradise Lewis McBride Nominated — Csapnivalo Award for Best Male Performance
2000 The Yards Willie Gutierrez Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Quills The Abbe de Coulmier Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — Chlotrudis Award for Best Supporting Actor

Gladiator Commodus Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture

2001 Buffalo Soldiers Ray Elwood Nominated — British Independent Film Award
2002 Signs Merrill Hess
2003 Brother Bear Kenai Voice
It's All About Love John
2004 Ladder 49 Jack Morrison Nominated — Movie Guide Award for Most Inspiring Movie Acting
Nominated — Teen Choice Award for Movie Actor: Drama
The Village Lucius Hunt
Hotel Rwanda Jack Daglish Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
2005 Walk the Line Johnny Cash Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
Hollywood Film Festival Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

2006 Earthlings Narrator San Diego Film Festival Humanitarian Award
2007 We Own the Night Bobby Green People's Choice Award for Favorite Leading Man
Reservation Road Ethan Learner
2009 Two Lovers Leonard

Personal life

Phoenix dated actress Liv Tyler from 1995 to November 1998. The couple met on the set of Inventing the Abbotts. He checked into rehab to be treated for alcoholism in early April 2005. On January 26, 2006, Phoenix was in a car accident in Hollywood on a winding canyon road that flipped over his car. The crash reportedly was caused by brake failure. Shaken and confused, Phoenix heard a tapping on his window and a voice say, "Just relax." Unable to see the man, Phoenix replied, "I'm fine. I am relaxed." The man replied, "No, you're not." At this point, Phoenix managed to see that the man was famed, eccentric German auteur Werner Herzog. After helping Phoenix out of the wreckage, Herzog phoned in an ambulance and vanished.

On February 11, 2009, Phoenix made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote his film Two Lovers. He was largely unresponsive towards Letterman's questions about the film and his acting career. When the audience laughed at his hip-hop aspirations, he complained to Letterman that he was not joking around. At the end of the interview, Letterman said, "Joaquin, I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight," followed by laughter and applause from the audience. In an interview given earlier the same day for the actor seemed completely coherent. Ben Stiller parodied Phoenix's external appearance, posture and performance as an awards co-presenter at the 81st Academy Awards ceremony.

See also


  1. Academy Invites 120 to Membership
  3. Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
  5. It has also been reported that Phoenix will enlist the assistance of Hip-Hop mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs to produce his debut rap album, yet to be titled. No release date for this project has been set.[1]
  8. I Saw Cast and Crew
  9. Thomson, Katherine. (2009-2-11), Joaquin Phoenix's Bizarre Letterman Appearance: (VIDEO), The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-2-11.
  10. Ryan, Maureen. (2009-2-11), Weird star alert: Joaquin Phoenix mystifies David Letterman, Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2009-2-12.
  11. Goodlett, Matt. (2009-2-13), Joaquin Phoenix and David Letterman Get Awkward, Paste Magazine. Retrieved 2009-2-15.
  12. Rich, Katey. (2009-02-13), Interview: Joaquin Phoenix, Retrieved 2009-02-15.

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